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Comments by Ruth Eisenbud - 5 May 2010

In Reference to: Say No to Sanctified Animal Abuse

Dear Rabbi Gershom,

I was troubled by your rush to judge.

You state: “But the kind of angry, vitriolic rhetoric in this article is not going to have any effect on the “semitic” communities, as you call us. Especially since you jumped ship and, rather than work within your own Jewish community to educate people about vegetarian teachings in Judaism (admittedly a very hard path), you took the easy way out and left, to attack Judaism from the sidelines.”

RE: This is hardly the kind of angry language I would expect from a religious leader. It is not necessary for you to speculate on my decision to leave the Jewish Religion. I made a courageous and wise decision and have learned so much from Jain teachings and the knowledgeable people in the community who have answered my questions with respect and humility, not scorn. It is not a decision that I would urge on anyone else, as Jains do not proselytize. Rather, I use the Jain experience as factual information, as it is their principle of ahimsa that I endorse. It alone has shown significant benefits for our long suffering animal friends.

RE: You seem offended by the term semitic. I first heard it from a very wise and compassionate man, Swami Tyagnanada of the Rama Krishna Vivekananda Vedantic Society. He is of Indian origin and used the term to describe a family of religions that include Jewish, Christian and Islamic religions. He did not use it as a derogatory term. The vedantic center he runs has guest speakers from all religions and all religions are respected. Your rush to assume that this term was harmful is of deep concern, as no harm whatsoever was intended.

RE: I did not take the easy way out, but feel strengthened by the teachings and the care with which the Jain community takes to avoid harm to animals and humans. It gives me a better perspective and a way to view the teachings of animal compassion with allowable harm and slaughter that so harmed my sense of well-being. It has given me a chance to heal my soul and that means a great deal to me.

RE: If we are to have a meaningful dialogue, then I would respectfully request that you not pass judgment on the reasons I have chosen to learn about a religion that for thousands of years has understood and respected the intrinsic worth of an animals life and has lived accordingly. My decision was not based on self-hate, but on care and concern for my spiritual well being as well as for the lives of ALL beings.

RE: I am not sure why you have labeled the letter to the clrergy as ‘vitriolic’. I will not speculate on your observation, but would be interested in your explanation. One has the right to reject and speak out against values that one finds hurtful to oneself as well as to others. This is not vitriol, but self preservation, a chance to learn less harmful ways to view and live in the world.

RE: To clear up some misunderstandings, the letter was posted for leaders of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, so that every item is not directed to leaders of the Jewish faith. This letter was intended to be read by activists in various denominations and faiths so that they could begin a dialogue with their religious leaders. I would be happy to engage with you on the specifics of Judaism as it pertains to animal compassion….Perhaps we can both learn something…

You state: “I do not condemn my ancestors who, because they lived in a different time and place, were unable to live up to that ideal.”

RE: This is not blame game, but an attempt to find a meaningful model that will lead to animal compassion…I am concerned about the present and an animal compassion model that does not grant the same compassion to animals and humans, but rather places man at the helm and grants him dominion over the animals. I do not understand why you must follow a model which, despite all your protests to the contrary is not compassionate, as it does allow for harm and slaughter of animals to meet a human need. Abuse and slaughter are not compassionate values…

You state: “There is also nothing in Judaism that says animals don’t feel pain. Quite the contrary. Maimonides, in the Guide for the Perplexed (12th century) says the pain felt by animals is the same as humans.”

RE: And therein lies the contradiction, because of allowable slaughter the compassion doled out to animals is trivial compared to the violence of slaughter and the pain and terror it inflicts. To state that the pain of animals is the same as that of animals and not speak out against slaughter for any reason is a serious oversight. To allow for slaughter in face of the knowledge of animal suffering is cruel, not compassionate. Incidentally, this is not to blame Mainonides, but rather to point out that it is not possible to build compassion on a foundation of sanctified allowable violence to animals…

RE: I suggest you read ‘Animals as Persons’ by Law Professor Gary Francione, Columbia University Press. He has a background in philosphy as well and clearly expains why it is not possible to obtain compassion for animals based on a model which does not respect the intrinsic worth of their lives. To allow for their slaughter and harm is to deny the value of their lives. This is expressed by the following Jain Sutra.

“For there is nothing inaccessible for death.
All beings are fond of life, hate pain, like pleasure,
shun destruction, like life, long to live. To all life
is dear.” Jain Acharanga Sutra.

RE: I am actively involved in the animal rights movement and have been exposed to the results of teachings in various cultures and by various religions and noted variations based on these values. When a culture and religion acknowledges that the lives of ALL beings are equally sacred and entitled to undconditional compassion, it goes a long way towards protecting them. When a culture and religion allows for their slaughter, animals are viewed not as living beings whose lives are to be measured not by value to man, but by its intrinsic worth not the animals. In such a setting the law views animals as property and the legislation offers very little protection for animals…It is unlikely that such a model will ever result in true compassion. The animals do not have the time for the semitic religions to evolve to a higher level, so I choose to work with a model that is already effective and has produced stellar results.

RE: Once you allow for slaughter and harm a line has been drawn and despite the best of intentions the loopholes provided by such a value system often lead to escalating forms and amounts of abuse. The contradiction between allowable harm and slaughter vs a nod to compassion is so great that it leads to confusion and abuse..

RE: While I admire your decision to become vegetarian because of the extreme cruelty of factory farming, you did not note that any slaughter of any animal is never warranted, even to benefit man. Long before I even knew the Jains existed I believed this and found that my beliefs were not respected by mainstream american culture or religion, including my birth religion…

You state: “A few more points: Judaism has never worshipped an “angry God.” That is a Calvinist Protestant perception which has become part of American culture but is not part of Jewish culture. The “angry Jehovah” idea was never part of Judaism, although it is still part of some Christian groups.”

RE: It is not necessary to blame the Calvinists, but rather to understand different models of compassion result in different outcomes for animals. One of sanctified harm results in escalating abuse. One of unconditional compassion results in ever improving conditions.

RE: I would prefer to not discuss aspects of either Judaism and Jainism that do not pertain to animals as this is not the proper forum for such considerations…I will note briefly that I found part of the Passover story difficult to listen to: where a lamb is killed so its blood can be used to mark the doors so that God could kill the first born children of the enemy. Implicit in this story is the message than an animal may be killed for human benefit. I understand that this is not done today, but the constant reiteration of a story which involves violence to an animal and children does not lead to a peaceful, compassionate state of mind. Peace is an unlikely outcome from the justifiable animal abuse and violence of religious myths.

RE: Compassion for animals is more than a vegetarian diet, it is view which appreciates the intrinsic worth of their lives and does not grant humans special rights and priveleges to ab(use) animals for their own benefit…It is a view that does not have loopholes which allow for animals to be harmed under certain conditions.

RE: It has not been my goal to offend you, rather my goal is question whether a model of compassion based on allowable harm and slaughter is really the best we can offer the animals. In fact whether it can ever lead to compassion. Given the evidence it doesnt seem so.

Ruth Eisenbud